We have learned much about Judith Collins' character over the past eight weeks. Most of it has been unflattering and unbecoming of a Minister of Justice. Ever since the first reports about her "cup of tea" at her husband's dairy company in Shanghai, she has failed through a number of episodes to be either straight up in her explanations or to demonstrate the maturity expected of someone in her position. Instead, she has blustered and done her best to deflect blame. Everything that has happened seems, in her eyes, to be the fault of someone else.
The visit to Oravida that kick-started Ms Collins' woes smacked mainly of naivety and carelessness. If it raised questions about a perceived conflict of interest, it was not a sackable offence. Nonetheless, there were disturbing aspects, including her unwillingness to acknowledge even that her activity could be perceived as inappropriate and her failure to be upfront about the exact circumstances of the visit. Documents released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) late last week showed it put a considerable amount of effort and planning into the visit, which she had portrayed as "popping in for a cup of tea" on the way to the airport.
More of the same has been evident in Ms Collins' explanation of her dinner in Beijing with Oravida bosses and an unnamed Chinese border control official. The Mfat documents showed Ms Collins' staff sought a briefing from ministry staff before the event. According to Ms Collins, this was later withdrawn. "When I found out, I told them . . . not to bother as it was a private dinner." The blame, therefore, lay with her staff. Either way, questions remain about a meeting that she has always portrayed as private.
The latest episode involving Ms Collins, at the National Party's northern regional conference, adds to the impression of immaturity. Having previously complained about her family being dragged into political matters, she claimed some media actions were "very inappropriate". She cited the example of TVNZ reporter Katie Bradford, who, she said, had asked about a police job for her partner at the time. Ms Collins had noted earlier that Labour MP Ross Robertson had approached her about his police officer daughter's leave.
This was all apparently designed to excuse Maurice Williamson, who resigned as a Government minister last week after contacting the police over charges faced by wealthy Chinese businessman Donghua Liu. The implication was that approaches to ministers over police matters were common, and that Mr Williamson had been treated harshly. It was an extraordinary position to take, suggesting the Justice Minister had no concept of a line that cannot be crossed. It also implied that the media were to blame. And that the Prime Minister had been wrong to respond so strongly to Mr Williamson's transgression.
Ms Collins' final shot in an interview with TV3 was to hint that she could dish up more dirt on the press gallery. "You might just find I get recall on all sorts of things," she said. That, of course, cuts both ways. Ms Collins subsequently apologised publicly to Bradford. The Prime Minister suggested the Justice Minister had "over-reached" but, more tellingly, he said he had had two "good and long conversations" with Ms Collins and she was under "pressure".
That pressure on Ms Collins is getting in the way of her doing her job. That state of affairs cannot continue. She has not been red-carded, given the proximity of Mr Williamson's demise. But she has been directed to take time out.
She needs to use the yellow card to get her head together and be honest with herself and the nation.
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